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REL 196A: Islam and Modernity - Morgenstein Fuerst (Spring 2018)


When thinking about your keywords, remember to:

  • search for all variant spellings of a term.  Examples: muslim, moslem  /  koran, qur'an, quran  / burka, burqa
  • search for synonyms/related terms. Examples : islam, islamic, islamization, muslim   /  veils, veiling, hijab, burqa, burka, niqab, headscarf
  • use truncation to retrieve plurals (e.g., muslim*) and variant endings (e.g., imperial*  for imperial, imperialism, imperialist, imperialists)
  • Note: sometimes it's effective to search for terms opposite to what you're looking for. Example: colonial, colonialism, decolonization. decolonisation, postcolonial, post-colonial

Keyword Search - Introduction

Keywords : Words/terms that represent the main points/ideas of a topic -  the most significant words in a topic, book or article. Used when searching databases and library catalogs as well as search engines on the Web.

Keyword searching finds words anywhere in the database record - in the title, subject headings, author's name, etc. Use the most important (or, "key") words in your topic, to get the most relevant results.

Identify Key Concepts
Write down your research question and circle or underline the words or terms that express the main idea/s.

Develop a List of Search Terms and Related Terms

  • For each idea/concept, brainstorm a list of keywords that best describe your research question.
  • Think of synonyms, as well as broader and narrower terms for each keyword.
  • Translate the keywords in your research question into the language of the databases you use. Databases may use different words or phrases to describe the same idea/concept. There may be several useful articles that use different terminology to discuss an issue. So, it's important to keep a record of the database and the terms in that database that yielded the most useful results.


Depending on the database, you may need to make your search more general or more specific.

Book titles are often quite general, and usually it is not possible to search the contents of the book.  In the Library Catalog, search terms may need to be more general.

Journal and newspaper article titles tend to be much more specific, so in an article database, you might have to adjust your search and add more specific search terms.

Use a Keyword Search

  • AND - narrows a search by combining two or more terms. All terms must be present.
    Example:  india  and imperialism
  • OR - broadens a search by combining synonyms or alternative forms of words. Any of the words must be present. Write down any commonly used alternatives to/synonyms for your search terms and connect them with or
    Example: muslim  or  moslem  or  islam        

  • NOT - excludes terms from a search; narrows and focuses a search   Example: south asia  not pakistan

  • TRUNCATION (aka wildcard) - symbol used at the end of a word or rootword to retrieve variant word endings, including plurals; makes a search more efficient by decreasing the number of searches.    Example: religio* retrieves: religion, religions, religious, etc.
    Many (not all) databases use the * as the truncation symbol. If you're not sure, check the online Help in each database to find which symbol is used.

  • Put the search together. Make your search more efficient by using the "and"   "or" connectors in one search.

    india or "south asia"
    women or femini*
    muslim* or islam*